Category Archives: Shakespeare


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As we move towards the celebration of Twelfth Night, historian Jerry Brotton looks back at the meaning and power of Shakespearian mischief.

For Shakespeare and his contempories festivals such as Twelfth Night were not just dates on a calendar, but often opportunities for boundaries to be tested and a whole society to implicitly re-examine the structures by which they lived.

Shakespeare’s plays are a clue to this pattern, and Jerry Brotton hears from actors Dame Harriet Walter and Simon Russell Beale; Simon Godwin, director of a new version of Twelfth Night; and Shakespeare scholar Emma Smith.

Featuring unwelcome commentary from Malvolio, written and performed by Tim Crouch.

Producer: Martin Williams.


(Anthony Tommasini’s article appeared The New York Times, 1/1/17.)

During a recent interview, the German soprano Diana Damrau and the Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo tried to describe the chemistry they have together onstage. Reading their comments, I worried that they might be overthinking things. After all, they first worked together only last year, appearing as the lovers in Massenet’s “Manon” at the Metropolitan Opera. The couple thrilled audiences and critics with the smoldering intensity they emitted. So this is a new relationship. In talking about their instinctive connection might they risk making it self-conscious?

Not to fear. On Saturday night for its New Year’s Eve gala, the Met introduced a new production of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” starring Mr. Grigolo and Ms. Damrau as Shakespeare’s star-crossed adolescent lovers. In scene after scene, these exciting and charismatic artists disappeared into their characters, emboldening each other to sing with white-hot sensuality and impassioned lyricism.

The production, by the director Bartlett Sher, his seventh for the Met, updates the setting from Renaissance to 18th-century Verona, presenting an essentially traditional staging with some surreal touches that seem a little forced. Still, to whatever degree Mr. Sher shaped the courageous performances of his stars, and this very strong cast, he deserves much credit.

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(Julia Franz’s article appeared on PI, 1/1/17.)

What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s star-crossed Juliet famously wanted to know. And for those of us peering skyward, it’s a question for the ages: Where do celestial bodies get their names from?

here are constellations and planets christened after Greek and Roman gods. The craters on Mercury are artists and musicians, like Bach, John Lennon and Disney. And the moons of the planet Uranus — there are, impressively, 27 altogether — have literary ties — 25 of them relate to characters in Shakespeare’s plays. 

For centuries, whoever discovered a celestial body usually had dibs on the naming rights. But when it comes to Uranus’ moons, details are murky about who exactly began doling out Shakespearean monikers.

The first two moons called Titania and Oberon, after the king and queen of the fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” were discovered by William Herschel in 1787. (He was also a famous composer.) But Herschel simply referred to the satellites as “number one” and “number two,” according to Cambridge University historian Michael Hoskin.

“I’ve read a huge amount of what Herschel wrote. And as far as I know, he’d never heard of Shakespeare,” Hoskin says.

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(Deborah Swift’s article appeared on English Historical Fiction Writers, 12/18; via Pam Green.)

In Shakespeare’s Day it was more usual to give gifts at New Year, but if you were lucky you might receive one at Christmas. Christmas gifts were known as Christmas Boxes and were usually given by a master to his servants, or an employer to his apprentices or workmen. They were a mark of appreciation for work done over the previous year.

New Year’s gifts were a more equal exchange between friends or relations.

So what might you expect in a Tudor christmas stocking?

Maria Hubert in her book “Christmas in Shakespeare’s England” suggests that Shakespeare might have enjoyed receiving paper as it was very expensive, a new quill pen, or a knife with which to sharpen it.

ell in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” a pedlar is selling:

Lawn as white as driven snow,

Cyprus black as e’er was crow,

Gloves as sweet as damask roses;

Masks for faces and for noses,

Bugle bracelet, necklace amber,

Perfume for a lady’s chamber;

Golden quoifs and stomachers

For my lads to give their dears.”

Elizabeth herself had a liking for candies and sugar fruits. The Sergeant of the Pastry (what a great title!) gave her a christmas ‘pye of quynses and wardyns guilt’. In other words a gilded pie of quince and plums.

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(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in the  New York Times, 12/12.)

“I am your own forever.” When these words are uttered in the electrifying new production of “Othello,” which opened on Monday night at the New York Theater Workshop, you feel you’ve heard the most frightening vow ever spoken. It is delivered at the end of the first half of a performance that is drawn in lightning. 

The speaker is a soldier, Iago by name, played by Daniel Craig; the object of his ardent declaration is his general, Othello, portrayed by David Oyelowo. Their faces are as close as clasped hands, foreheads pressed hard together as if in some ungodly mind meld. 

By that moment, you have come to know these men intimately. You understand exactly how they’ve arrived at such a moment of communion and exactly where they’re headed. As presented by two actors at the top of their game, in a marriage made in both heaven and hell, the story of Othello and Iago could not possibly end otherwise than it does.

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(Anthony Gockowki’s article appeared in Campus Reform, 12/12.)

Students at the University of Pennsylvania removed a portrait of Shakespeare from a prominent location in the school’s English department after complaining that he did not represent a diverse range of writers.

In fact, the chair of the department confirmed in a statement that the portrait was stripped from the wall by his students as “a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,” The Daily Pennsylvanian reports.

Additionally, Department Chair Jed Esty explained that the portrait was “delivered” to his office and replaced with a photograph of Audre Lorde, a celebrated African American feminist and author, in a move that was intended to send a message to Esty, whose department agreed to replace the portrait several years ago.

Esty went on to confirm that the portrait of Lorde will remain in Shakespeare’s place until he and his colleagues can reach an agreement on what to do next, announcing the establishment of a “working group” to help monitor the process.

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(Mike Eglinton’s article appeared in the Japan Times, 11/22.)

He is one of Asia’s foremost theater directors, and Ong Keng Sen looked to be enjoying his latest challenge when we met in Tokyo in March during rehearsals for “Sandaime Richard,” Japanese dramatist Hideki Noda’s iconoclastic adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Richard III.”

The Singaporean dramatist was preparing to stage the famously complex play two months later at the annual World Theatre Festival Shizuoka — where, he said, he was intent on pursuing his longstanding focus on what he calls “New Asia” by weaving its multiple realities and hybrid identities through Noda’s “machine-gun” Japanese script.

In practice, he was transforming Noda’s radical reworking of the Bard’s original into a multilingual, cross-cultural and hypermodern play involving Japanese, Singaporean and Indonesian performers trained in different disciplines and traditions.

As Ong — who is also artistic director of the performance company TheatreWorks (Singapore) and director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts — went on to explain, “With this year being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we’re putting him on trial via Noda’s illuminating work he wrote and first performed in 1990.”

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Nutshell by the acclaimed author Ian McEwan is read by the actor Tim McInnerny.

Ian McEwan’s latest novel updates the story of Hamlet to a townhouse in modern day London. As at Elsinore – betrayal and murder are rife. Trudy plans to poison her husband John and elope with her lover Claude. There is however a witness to the plot – Trudy’s as yet unborn child.

‘Bounded in the nutshell’ of Trudy’s womb, the foetus is forced to eavesdrop on his mother Ger(Trudy) and her lover, property-developer Claude, as they plan to murder his father, a hapless poet called John Cairncross. The ambitious but deeply banal Claude is of course brother to John and, consequently, villainous uncle to our unborn narrator. Claude and Trudy devise an elaborate facade involving anti-freeze and a great many props to cover their tracks and suggest that John’s death was suicide.

As witness to all these goings-ons, the nine-month old resident of Trudy’s womb keeps up a running commentary as he muses on his own future and decides how he can subvert their plan and avenge the murder. Nutshell’s Denmark is an elegant Georgian terraced house in London St. John’s Wood that has become shabby and dilapidated, but Claude has designs on it.

Tim McInnerny is known for his many roles on stage and screen appearing in films such Johnny English and TV such as Sherlock and the recent National Treasure. Early in his career he featured as Lord Percy Percy and Captain Darling in the Blackadder series.

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author. His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year, The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam which won the 1998 Booker Prize, Atonement, Saturday, On Chesil Beach, Solar and The Children Act.

Photo of Ian McEwan: Star Tribune




(Lyn Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/23.)

What a difference four years make. When Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female version of Julius Caesar, set in a women’s prison, premiered at the Donmar in 2012, cross-gender casting was still perceived by some as a novelty, and theatre’s feminists were only stirring. By the time the second production in the trilogy, Henry IV, opened in 2014, research carried out for Tonic Theatre’s Advance programme had highlighted the shocking gender inequality on Britain’s stages and Maxine Peake was playing Hamlet in Manchester.

Now, as a pared-down version of The Tempest completes the trilogy – in which each filleted production is remarkable, but when seen consecutively are utterly extraordinary – there is a growing critical mass of gender-blind casting. Glenda Jackson is playing King Lear at the Old Vic and Anna Francolini is Captain Hook at the National Theatre, where Tamsin Greig will soon play Malvolio.

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(Dorothy Butchard’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 11/1; photo: Russia Beyond the Headliens/TASS)

“You are among us, you’re alive,” the great Soviet-era novelist and poet Vladimir Nabokov wrote in his poem, Shakespeare. Imagining a “hundred-mouthed, unthinkably great bard” strutting from Elizabethan times into the modern era, Nabokov captured Russia’s enduring fascination with Shakespeare. His words still resonate in Russia today as appetites for classical English literature remain undiminished.

Earlier this year, commuters in Moscow were greeted by an unusual sight: a metro train brightly decorated with quotes and characters from Shakespeare’s plays.

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